I usually write a blog about Celtic’s big games, but this was one of those matches where everything goes as planned. Celtic didn’t score five this time. But if you listen to Steven Thompson on telly then Celtic could easily have scored five or six, had eighteen shots on target and he doesn’t think the gap between Celtic and Rangers has declined. Thompson is, of course, a former Ranger’s centre-forward and hardly a neutral. From where I was sitting, drunk admittedly, Wes Fodernigham made the save of the match, after a minute from Tom Rogic’s strike. Armstrong slipped when he was about to shoot and Griffiths missed an absolute sitter, heading well over the bar from the back post. That was all inside ten minutes. Brown strolled the midfield and Ranger’s brave new signings, much like the old lot, were playing with concrete feet on. Yet, after the game, I was told Rangers bossed the first half.
Looking for evidence of this a ball did flash across the Celtic box at one point and Jozo Simunovic did pull out of a tackle on the Ranger’s centre-forward, Alfredo Morelos, which could have been classified as a penalty, but wasn’t. Other than that Celtic did look a bit pedestrian, but teams like St Johnstone have pushed them further for longer than Rangers managed for about five minutes.
When the diddy teams don’t score first they are in trouble and so it proved. A trundler from Patrick Roberts from the edge of the box and Tom Rogic (I’d two quid on him as first-goalscorer at 9/1) was first to pounce and Celtic were one up and coasting. And when Roberts drifted in behind the defence to play in Griffiths the game was over, the Copland Road stand emptied and most of the blue contingent went hame in case anything else happened. Celtic brought on McGregor for Rogic. Forrest for Roberts and Dembele for Griffiths. Bitton, Hayes and Nicham didn’t get a sniff. I’ve been impressed by Eboue Koussai but he’s injured. Liam Henderson can’t get a hooped strip. Ryan Christie is out on loan and set up Aberdeen’s win at Motherwell with a marvellous piece of skill. Odsonne Edouard, the onloan striker from PSG, wasn’t stripped either, despite being one of the three best strikers in Scottish football. There’s no doubt a Celtic second eleven would have a real chance of beating the first-eleven. I’d certainly expect them to beat Rangers easily.
Back to the Champions League duty where Celtic are the minnows, but it’s minnow against minnow this week with a game against Anderlecht on Wednesday. Last time we were rotten and a young seventeen-year-old Vincent Kompany stood tall against Hartson, Sutton and Henrik. Inevitably, there was talk of signing him, but I wonder where that Kompany boy is now?
A draw that feels like a defeat. That’s how far we’ve come. The demolition of Rangers when they last visited Parkhead by five goals was comprehensive. If you can remember back to that day the big worry was that in-form Leigh Griffith was out. And Rangers would be nipping on our heels for the league. Joey Barton would be the best player in Scottish football by a mile (or so he said, but don’t misquote him). Since then Celtic have beaten Rangers comfortably. Yesterday they didn’t. And Rangers deserved their draw. And if Waghorn was a striker that could finish then it really would have been a victory and not a pyrrhic victory, because if Celtic are going to lose a game – and they didn’t here, then this was a good time to do so. Defeat against Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final will bring the season to a grinding halt. And it will lift Rangers.
It’s easy to point out Celtic’s failings. They were all over the park. Craig Gordon a stand out. Stuart Armstrong best outfield player. He scored a wonderful goal just before half-time. Five shots all on target, one of which hits the post. Scott Brown had a decent game. That old cliché, win all your duels. He did that, while all around him others did not. Pass marks to Tierney, who came onto a game and there was that wonderful cameo of nutmegging an opposition defender. All the other defenders, woeful. Sinclair, who can usually be relied on to score, went missing. And his fellow striker, Dembele on a better day could have had a hat-trick, here more puff than powder puff. On any other day those two would have been first for the hook. Bitton was hooked at half-time, for MacGregor. Roberts came on for Forrest. Griffiths came on for Armstrong. After Craig Gordon had produced another great save, the Celtic defence if they weren’t playing Keystone Cops falling over and backing into people and falling over again, most notably Erik Sviatchenko, then they were last to react as centre half older than Methuselah, beats them to the punch and Clint Hill scores. Two other Rangers players were behind him. Celtic defenders? Oxymoron.
Worst performance of the day, however, by popular acclaim was Bobby Madden the referee. Leigh Griffiths said it was a penalty. The Ranger’s player who made the tackle admitted it was a penalty. The referee didn’t see it that way. He also didn’t see Kenny Miller’s kung-fu tackle or Jason Holt’s X-rated scissor-tackle on Roberts.
Celtic’s big-game players didn’t turn up. Now with a new manager at Ibrox, and a 1-1 victory for Rangers, we’re hearing the same old shit, there’s no real gap between the teams, or the gap isn’t as big as some people think or poor Pedro or poor Ranger’s ‘I’ve inherited the best group of players in Scotland’. Ho-hum. Celtic let us down in a big semi-final last year, it’s of the let’s just not go there places we don’t want to visit.
Where’s the ba? In the net…
I must admit I’d a fiver on Celtic to win at 33/1. You know it’s not going to happen, but think it might. And at those odds, you can’t really lose, although you did. We all know how it works. Barcelona need to have an off day as they did on Saturday against a newly promoted team. The Celtic goalkeeper has got to have the game of his life, as David Marshal once did, or even Frazer Foster. Here De Vries came in to replace Craig Gordon, the latter whom had taken to making a few howlers, most notably bumping into Janko in the Champions-League qualifier. De Vries has been notable by his absence. Since replacing Craig Gordon I can’t remember him making a save. Here he was at it again. Dreadful. Gamboa replaced Janko, but it’s difficult to make an assessment of him. He didn’t seem to touch the ball. Lustig was often in the wrong place at the wrong time and never made a tackle. You can add the other centre-halfs to that list Shevchenko and Toure. The shining light in Celtic’s performances last season, and this, has been Kieran Tierney. His worst performance came in Israel, but this was topped last night. A toss-up between De Vries and Tierney to determine who the worst Celtic player was, but Scott Brown our captain would probably have lost that as well.
Of the midfield four, Scott Brown was Celtic’s man of the match because i) he tackled and ii) he made two passes in a row to his teammates. Bitton was the straw man from the Wizard of Oz and could have been taken off at any time. Sinclair, who up until now, has that magic touch and scored in every game, lost his touch here. Roberts at least tried to get forward, taking people on, but losing the ball.
Dembele missed a penalty that funnily enough would have put us 1-1. Hard to believe that now. When Barcelona are winding down and they bring on Ineista, well that just about says it all. Celtic weren’t expected to win, but they weren’t expected to capitulate in this way. But this game is a freebie. We expected nothing from it and took nothing. A reality check in the same way that the result in Israel was also a reality check. Much work needs to be done, but even now, after the biggest hammering I’ve ever seen Celtic take, we’re finally going in the right direction.